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Aaron Baker, Let's Live Forever, acrylic, enamel, and plastic on panel, 36x36 in., 2003. Courtesy Peter Miller Gallery, Chicago.

Scott Anderson, Skulptajo Parko, oil on canvas, 50x40 in., 2003. Courtesy the artist.

Aaron Baker, Missy's Such a Tease, acrylic and enamel on panel, 15 in. in diameter, 2003. Courtesy collection of Mark Rosman.

Scott Anderson, Batalo Kampo, oil on canvas, 24x30 in., 2003. Courtesy private collection.

I feel pretty good about being involved in painting at this time, although I know that's probably going to go away. Not that it would make much difference in what I'm doing; it's just inevitable that painting will fall out of favor again.
--scott anderson

Once you figure out what you're doing as a painter, you get a certain satisfaction out of it that has no connection to whether painting's in vogue. It becomes a part of your life; it becomes who you are. You wake up; you make paintings.
--aaron baker

Aaron Baker, I Am Waiting for Life to Begin, Part II, acrylic, enamel, and plastic on panel, 24 in. in diameter, 2002. Courtesy Peter Miller Gallery, Chicago.

Scott Anderson, Sablo Urbeto, oil on canvas, 40x50 in., 2003. Courtesy the artist.
  OK, mouthtomouth readers, this is Aaron speaking. I don't think I've ever really asked you this question, Scott, but how did you come to painting?

Basically, it's the most natural way for me to work. I've always navigated or negotiated everything that has happened to me through some sort of graphic means. It started with drawing, especially in high school, and painting's just a more robust and resolved means of creating an image that's an object, as well.

Given that your paintings are, to my eye, a myriad of gestures, shapes, and images, are you implying that these objects are actually images of things?

If you're talking about the relationship between representation and abstraction, I largely ignore the distinction. I definitely identify paintings as objects, but I also want to create some sort of cognitive space. The painting is an object you not only look at as a thing, as an additive object in a physical space, but also as an additive object in a psychological or conceptual space. It occupies you in a fantastical way; it exists like a fictional narrative or a film would. There's a kind of implied story involved with the paintings, as well, and I think that requires subject matter.
Your work is certainly more abstract than mine in the formal sense, but you also make pictures of things. Which is interesting because of your history as an artist--the imagery in your paintings now looks like paintings of your sculptures, in a sense. What's your relationship between imagery and abstraction?

Well, to be truly honest, I would say I make abstract paintings. I think of them as systems of shapes, colors, and gestures that really have no bearing on the real world insofar as they represent things or places. I just try to come up with the coolest, most exciting combination of stuff I can, within the particular painting I'm working on.
When I look at your paintings, I tend to think they're full of stuff--and I mean that in the best possible way. There might be a little eagle over here, with a big juicy brushstroke next to it; then over on the righthand side there might be an imitation brushstroke that you've painted in as an image. All of these things coexist in a really wild, raucous composition, which makes me think it's all just grist for the mill, for you. I don't get the sense that any elements take precedence over any others; each gesture seems like a step along the way toward making this thing. Which is always what it comes back to, for me, every time I start out on this journey of trying to make a successful painting. How do you even do that, and why would you even do that? It seems to be a really daunting process, so I employ whatever means I can.

I think I basically do the same thing. There's really not much of a hierarchy between one component and the next. What ends up mattering in the end is that collective, final product. I think you can expand that from painting to painting, too--it's not just the individual pieces. I want to reiterate that I think of them as being fictions, and in that sense, they operate like objects. They're these abstract things that really don't have a lot of specific meaning--or at least not concrete meaning--themselves. But they generate this escape from what you would normally regard as logic, not only in how a painting is made, but how space would be constructed, and everything that entails.

Over the last couple years, landscape elements have become more prominent in your paintings. So many artists are referencing landscape painting in their work right now. I was wondering whether you think your work fits in with that scene.

It probably does. I do pay attention to what's going on; in any field, it's important to know what your peers are doing. But I don't really concern myself too much with fitting into that. My general feeling is that some things are just symptomatic of the time in which they're made, and the culture they're made in.

There are many different types of gestures in your paintings. When you put all these things together, are you making some sort of statement about how disparate everything is? What's the strategy there?

For several years now, I've been composing my paintings in a postmodern way--at least in the synthetic, superficial sense where you deny authorship by assembling or illustrating various styles, and the symbiosis creates some kind of cohesive meaning. I see it as being just another style more than anything else: I bring these things together so they coexist in a more conventional way, in a relatively logical space. As you've mentioned, the paintings have become more landscape-oriented in the past couple of years, and even though there's skewed perspective, weird scale variations, and things that don't make sense, or that seem disparate, the way in which I'm painting them now has gotten pretty level. It's a lot more even and similar. I'm really happy with that development, because it reinforces this idea that I have a more identifiable fiction to create. Also, I feel like these paintings are a lot more warm and personal--and kind of sweetly earnest, in a way--which is something that's lacking in a lot of art. Or at least it has been, in previous years.

So in many respects, you're really trying to make a very conventional painting, to satisfy some kind of inner narrative you have. That makes you sound like a Surrealist painter! Do you feel any connection with Surrealism?

Well, I'm not very interested in psychoanalysis. But undeniably, I'm very attracted to Surrealism--maybe in a superficial way.

Yeah, I've seen that well-used Tanguy book on your shelf! So how do you choose your colors? Many of them seem like very strange tertiary colors; they're just weird enough to be unnamable.

Basically, you've already answered your question: like a lot of things in the paintings, the colors have an uncanny effect. The spaces seem like logical landscapes, but then they defy that logic in a lot of different ways, as do the colors. Like you say, they sort of make sense--you kind of identify them as a certain color--but ultimately they fall short of being easily categorized. I also try to do that same sort of thing in a more general way, where I present a combination of colors that look like something the viewer may have experienced before, whether from illustrations on their 1980s' Trapper Keeper or the typical décor of a mid-1970s' kitchen. So I want there to be some kind of familiarity with the combination of colors, but not necessarily have them be specific to what's presented in the painting--"local color" is what I think it's called.
Let me turn this over to you, Aaron. You're an artist who makes paintings and sculptures. Is there a difference in how these two endeavors function, for you?

I approach my paintings with the same agenda, which on a basic level is no different than it would be for anyone--to make fantastic and irresistible things that can sustain repeated viewing. (laughs) In truth, I think of them as flatter versions of my sculptures, and my concerns really don't change. I'm still thinking about genetic engineering, 19th-century botanical theory, theme-park design, Clutch Cargo cartoons. Being an artist, for me, is all about the daily practice of making objects, of toiling away in an attempt to make sense of your life--not about a connection to any particular material. Dave Hickey used to say, "Art rarely makes you famous. It can sometimes get you sex. It can sometimes get you drugs. But for the most part, it just gives you a life, and it's important to be able to look back with satisfaction and say, 'I had a life.'" Anyway, in my mind, my paintings are sculptures and my sculptures are paintings.

Why? Because they all have 3-D balls and little blobs on them?

Well, I'm into the materiality of things; I'm into "objectness." I like my paintings to hang on the wall with some physicality. I fantasize they have a certain reflexive attitude, an awareness that they're physical things that exist in the world with a given set of attributes and limitations. You know, I want them to look like they know they're made of stuff, weigh a certain amount, jut out from the wall by so many inches, that they have color. I don't think of my paintings as a window unto a world or anything.

Your paintings pretty much stick to a circular format. Why?

Honestly, I was just trying to come up with a fresh format that would feel more challenging to me as a painter. I'd been making rectangles and squares, and had just finished a series of square paintings in which the images were highly symmetrical. In one way, I think going to the circle after that was the next logical step, since a circle is basically a square with the corners cut off. It's a weird shape on which to paint for a lot of different reasons, probably the most obvious being that when people think of tondos, they think of religious paintings--and this is something that never occurred to me. I don't ever look at religious paintings; I like to say that if it was painted before 1945, I haven't seen it! I would never have called them tondos myself, but almost everybody I know refers to them that way, so I've started calling them that, as well. And I get a certain bang knowing people might be thinking about Raphael paintings when they're looking at my tondos, and wondering whether my work fits in at all with that tradition of religious iconography.

You talk repeatedly about your paintings as abstract objects, but there's a strong pictorial aspect to them.

For me, my work is about anthropomorphizing the object's drive to become something. They are pictures of this process of becoming, depictions of the whole silly melodrama of creation or creativity, and therefore are representational from that perspective. Because of this, they reference orifices, organs, and cellular forms. The distinction I make, though, is that I don't think of the object as a picture of biology, but rather think of the object as embodying biology itself. As I said before, I fantasize that they have dispositions. I think of them as substitute people. They do what people do--they take the physical traits they've been given, consider the context around them, summon up as much moxie as they can, and then try to reorient the world so that it's more to their liking. That's what we all do.

The small circular panel is something that's found almost exclusively in the art-supply racks of Michael's or Hobby Lobby. Are you making a hobbyist reference?

Certainly, because I've always been very steadfast in my belief that artwork should be allowed to be cute, or precious--even though back in undergrad I can remember lots of critiques when peers or instructors would shake their heads over that. There must be something transgressive to it, so it's exciting to me. My approach to painting is to lay the panel flat and work on it like a jeweler works on a watch. I get in close and really hover over the thing; I see it as an object that has to be fine-tuned and finessed. And I like to keep it a certain size--2-1/2 to 3 feet is about as big as I want it to be--because I can still wrap my arms around it, cradle it, and feel like the whole world of that painting is within my sight and my grasp. I also like the idea that the circular format is a hook for people--it makes the paintings more accessible. Not a lot of people have seen circular paintings, so your Uncle Joe could find an inroad into the work just because he wants to know why it's round. I feel like hobby, having been so marginalized for centuries, is an interesting place to go. There's always a kind of conversation between my objects--the sculptures as well as the paintings--and craftworks, because I know you're technically not supposed to use plastic grapes in "art"--

If you want it to be taken seriously.

Absolutely. And I think that's ridiculous--the more I know I'm not supposed to do something, the more it makes me want to do it. In school, I was told that art is supposed to defy the viewer's expectations; it's supposed to do the wrong thing at just the right time. With all the political and identity-based installation and video that was everywhere at the time, and this pressure to be making these grand cultural gestures, I guess I fixated on trying to make what felt to me to be the opposite of all that--these small-scaled, obsessive things made from uncool materials. They would hopefully engage viewers on an intimate level, and then reveal themselves slowly over time.

Your work was also included in Gallery 312's Hobby Lobby show last year, which explored this "low material" premise.

Yeah. As you know, I tend to get included in these shows that have titles like Craft Store Sublime and The Return of JoAnne's Fabrics. (laughs) It's true that I've always been interested in the secret lives of hobbyists, people who buy their materials on sale at places like "Rudy's Craft Emporium" and then toil away in their basements piecing together these little devotional objects, like Popsicle-stick replicas of the world's greatest train stations or something. So the craft thing appeals to me on many levels, but my work is not about some dialogue about the proper place of craft in fine art. More often than not, I like the ambiguity of those materials--that they're both familiar and alien at the same time. My idea of making good art involves having someone look at it and say, "Wait a minute--are these shirt buttons?" I like using whatever's on hand and not omitting materials based on their being too "crafty." I'm an equal opportunity appropriator. Ultimately, though, I want the object to transcend its materials.

Dave Hickey talks about taking some kind of frivolous form of culture and customizing it, and I think that relates to the hobbyist thing you're talking about. I relate to that in a way, too, because I definitely borrow liberally from the vernacular of illustration in my work, as opposed to exclusively employing painting techniques from art history. I'm still pretty much a drawer as opposed to a painter, and even though I occasionally have very painterly passages in my works, the paintings remain predominantly "rendered." It's not really about the battle between high and low culture--that has already been fought and won. It's really about stirring something that's kind of familiar, like taking a dead language and reusing it.

There's certainly a lot of geek imagery in your paintings. If you'd told me in the mid-'90s that I'd be hanging out with a guy who, in all seriousness, made an oil painting with a picture of Tatooine in it, I'd never have believed it!

Well, the science-fiction stuff really does fit with the types of elements I use in the paintings--be it modern painting, suburbia, Esperanto titles, whatever. The fact that it's science fiction is what's important, because it's all part of that kind of pathetic optimism inherent in the Modern narrative in general.

Since you mention your Esperanto titles, would you elaborate on what Esperanto is, and why you've chosen it as a structure on which to base the titles of your work, as well as some of the imagery?

Esperanto was a universal language developed in the late 19th century by a Polish oculist, Dr. L. L. Zamenhof; it was supposed to solve a lot of international problems regarding how people got along. Obviously it didn't work out, but it had a resurgence in the 1960s. I really don't think or care that much about titles--if I did, I wouldn't title the works in an illegible language! It's just another way to extend the bank of imagery and vocabulary I'm using in the paintings. Those titles also have an uncanny effect on the paintings. Esperanto is largely Latin-based, so when you read it, it sounds kind of familiar. It sounds a lot like Spanish, for instance, but ultimately it's pretty opaque. You really don't know exactly what it means, because it's still a foreign tongue to most people.

It seems amazing to me that you're excited to make your paintings for all these reasons, and you're not at all ashamed. We went to school, especially undergraduate school, during a period when the whole purpose for making art was some sort of larger cause. You were always supposed to be teaching the viewers something important, or adding to a preexisting dialogue about sexual identity, multiculturalism, or whatever was in vogue in the early 1990s. Your approach is much more personal and hermetic. You've come up with your own belief system for making paintings in general, and each particular painting represents its own mysterious little microcosm. I wonder if it would've been possible for you to make those paintings in the mid-'90s, or for them to be received well at all.

Yeah, it's interesting. Of course, in school, I felt exactly the same pressure you're speaking of--and I still get it, too. I think some people "read" the imagery, particularly because I include a lot of depictions of suburban details--tract housing, golf courses, and whatnot. A lot of people think they "get" the paintings because of these details--they act as hooks, which is a good thing. I use that sort of stuff because it's very familiar to me and to many other people in our culture. It's like an American common tongue; it grounds the images and gives the work something to launch from. In order to have anything work in an uncanny or strange way, you have to be able to identify with it in a more grounded, concrete way initially; it needs something comfortable--whether a color scheme or an image--to disrupt or subvert. So often, in school, I got prodded about the sociopolitical aspects of those suburban details, and people still ask me if I'm making some sort of capitalist critique about suburban development or land use. I have my own politics on all of these things, but I don't really see that as being very important in the work.

When I was an undergraduate, painting was just not cool. Not that it's terribly cool now, but during the early '90s there was a tremendous amount of pressure to not even pick up a paintbrush. And if you did, it was only acceptable if the work seemed smart enough to be about something totally other than painting. God forbid you should call yourself a painter, or that people would suspect you just enjoyed that process. So in my mind, one of the biggest things that has changed--if not in the art world, then at least about my perspective on it or my role in it--is that I don't feel any embarrassment about painting anymore. How about you?

I don't, either, and I never really have. However, being the polite Midwestern boy that I am, I've always tried to please faculty members who advised me, and I would attempt to defend my paintings and my practice in ways I thought would make a good argument with whomever I was arguing to. Right now, there seems to be a little more room, within criticism and artworld opinion, to see painting as OK--or at least a lot more room than there was 10 years ago. So I feel pretty good about being involved in painting at this time, although I know that's probably going to go away. Not that it would make much difference in what I'm doing; it's just inevitable that painting will fall out of favor again.

Absolutely. Every five years, there are all these articles saying "Painting's Back" or "Painting Now" or "The Return of Painting"--which is hilarious for people who have always been painting, because painting doesn't go away. When you read those articles, you say to yourself, "Painting's here because painting has always been here." The art world is, in a major sense, a market. Anytime there's a lot of money in that market, there's more painting. Whenever the market takes a dive, painting recedes somewhat, and you see the advance of more conceptual, less object-oriented forms of expression. That's just a normal cycle for the art world, and something you learn to accept. But I also think that once you figure out what you're doing as a painter, and you reach some level of sophistication in your approach, you get a certain satisfaction out of it that has no connection to whether painting's in vogue or not. It just becomes a part of your life; it becomes who you are. You wake up; you make paintings. That's one of the biggest changes I've seen in so many artists' lives over the last 10 years: going from that place of being in school and making work to make other people happy, to just doing what they want to do. For a lot of people, that's making the painting that, years ago, they felt they shouldn't make.

Right. There's a story you like to tell about how painting's like the comeback kid--

Well, I have a theory, which is that everybody--Americans in particular--likes a good comeback story. So we love the idea that painting is out of vogue and uncool, because then we can bring it back and make it exciting and important again. We let it coast at that level for a while, and then what do we have to do? We have to tear it back down. You can't be a good comeback story unless you've really hit rock bottom. It's not just that you're down and low, it's that you were at a previous high, and either you fell of your own accord or somebody took you down. America was built on this rugged individualism, this pioneer spirit, that makes us really love the underdog, and painting will always be the ultimate underdog. Paintings also remind us of ourselves, because they're frail physical things. In my bedroom, I have this fifth generation Ab-Ex painting from the 1970s that I bought at auction for a pittance; it's by a guy named Saunders, and no one knows who he was except for maybe his grandchildren. I love this painting, because every day it takes the stage and plays its heart out trying to be a successful abstract painting. Some days, in a certain light, it really wins--and some days it fails. But I think that's why I love painting: it's a delicate, vulnerable thing that can turn around and become so fantastic.

We've mentioned Dave Hickey, and I know you studied with him at University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Las Vegas and Los Angeles are pretty interconnected as far as the art scene goes, and typically those cities are very fertile grounds for painting and object-making in general. So why leave what would seem to be such a supportive environment for your work and your ideas?

Love, basically: I came here with my then-girlfriend, who's now my wife. Like so many Chicago artists, I thought I'd just be here for a while, and then eventually we'd wind up in New York. That's actually one of the charming things about Chicago: artists always have plans to go someplace else--and a lot of them do--but so many end up staying a lot longer than they thought. That's certainly the case with me; I've been here about four years now.

The more time goes by, the more rooted you get.

Totally. How about you? You've been here a couple years.

For me, it was a more natural move. I went to school at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, which is only a couple hours south of Chicago, and it was kind of the default decision to come here. It's the third-largest city in the country, and you want to believe it can work out--that there's room for everything, just like there's room for everything in New York. But you know, it is different from a lot of other places. What do you think about the kind of position painting holds in a city like Chicago, as opposed to New York or Los Angeles?

Honestly, I think painting is in a pitiful place in Chicago.

That's very sad.

It is very sad. And there's no shortage of good painters in Chicago. But that's not the same thing as saying Chicago has a healthy scene, that it's a hospitable place, or that it's on the map in any way as a hotspot for painting. I think that's all about the institutions. There's a very institutional, academic mindset here among the curators and even a lot of the galleries, and there's really not a lot of local programming going on. The 12x12 program at the Museum of Contemporary Art just isn't cutting the mustard. For the most part, they're still programming your typical German photography shows, or architecture shows.

But don't you think that same kind of programming occurs in other cities? I mean, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art puts together the same old kunsthalle, pedagogical brand of exhibition that every other museum in the country does, yet LA's commercial gallery atmosphere is much more favorable toward the art object, and studio art.


Is it just the size of the city? Is it Hollywood? What is it?

Well, first I would argue that the museums in LA, in particular, do have more progressive programming. Places like UCLA's Hammer Museum will mount a survey of young LA artists--a lot of whom will be right out of school--with a big installation and a catalog, so it causes a lot of excitement. Then you have smaller museums that are no less respected, like the Long Beach Museum, which does great shows of local artists who are underrepresented in the international scene. But I think your point about the commercial scene is a good one: there are more galleries in LA that are much more supportive of younger artists. When you have more galleries, you have more artists and more choices--and it just makes for a lot more of everything. The problem with Chicago is a lot greater than just the MCA or the Art Institute. Overall, I feel there are two attitudes that hurt artists here. The first is this very 1990s, politically correct academic approach to understanding and exhibiting art. The second is definitely a real problem across the board, not just in the art world, and that's the second-city phenomenon in Chicago. I just don't believe that Chicago believes it could be a hotspot for art. And that goes for the curators, the galleries, and the artists themselves. That's why so many of us think of Chicago as a transitional place--

Or a place to go to school.

Right. Even curators come here as a stepping-stone to something else. It's often said that the MCA people are basically biding their time, hoping to make names for themselves so they can move on to national or international posts. I don't think that's unusual at any museum, but I do think there's a lack of faith that Chicago could be something important in the art world.

Do you think it can be something important in the art world?

I do, although I don't know if I could come up with a formula or strategy for making that happen. I tend to think about what Chicago should not be doing--and in my opinion, that's trying to be New York or Europe or LA. We should accept that we're different from those places, and focus on whatever it is we do best. Take LA, for example: it was really thought of as a very provincial city for fine art until the 1970s. It was a second city, always wanting to be New York, always looking for acceptance in the bigger scene. Then something happened among the young artists--they just stopped giving a shit about being New York artists, started focusing in on their own little worlds and their own concerns, and made work for each other--which I think is the key. And out of that generation you got a group of artists like Jim Shaw, Paul McCarthy, and Mike Kelley. All of these guys became known for this very Southern California quirky sensibility and school of thought. A lot of them came out of Cal Arts, and maybe that was a big factor, but it was only when they let themselves do whatever they wanted to do, and be as LA as they could possibly be, that their careers really took off. Ever since, that scene has been building and becoming stronger, and now LA's definitely an international city.

And so is Chicago, to a degree. But there's something happening out West that Chicago just doesn't have, which is an international interest in its primary industry: entertainment. That international interest generates a natural curiosity about other sorts of culture in LA. Which really doesn't exist for Chicago; basically, we're a Middle-American capital.

We have the meatpacking industry.

Exactly. And to some degree, I can see elements of respect for what's happening in the Chicago art scene--particularly with the alternative spaces, of which there are many. It's a pretty healthy scene when you consider the numbers and the enthusiasm behind it. I'm not sure it's "there" yet, or that I even see an enormous amount of work that's very interesting coming out of it. But I do see potential. Some cite a different standard of success in the Midwestern art scene, and sales, major exhibitions, groups shows, and all that, are not part of that model. I'm not in total compliance with that, necessarily. I think it's just something young artists anywhere tend, in a very healthy way, to adopt as a model; they don't need the things that traditionally typify success in order to feel good about themselves as artists. My point is, there are lots of ideas about what's going to make this city mean something in a larger context, and I agree with you that Chicago's hung-up on a certain kind of artmaking, which has everything to do with the second-city complex. It's about needing to showboat some kind of intellectual excellence, and the way a lot of artists in the region feel they can do that is in the arena of theoretical or conceptual posturing, as opposed to formal invention. I think this has a lot to do with Protestant ethics and stereotypical middle-American values.

The fear of idolatry--

And hedonism, pleasure, and all that stuff that seems so readily accepted out West--with the exception of smoking!

Well, how did you feel about the Here and Now show at the Cultural Center? As a caveat, I should disclose I was included in it...

...And I wasn't! I thought there were some good things in it, but I never really buy the idea that any show--whether it's at the Cultural Center, the Whitney, or any other venue--is somehow illustrative of what's going on "here and now." You have to understand there are curators involved who have certain agendas, and they're picking out a very specific cross-section of work to represent what's going on. Now, those kinds of shows need to happen, in a way; they're sort of a necessary component in any regular art scene. I'm trying to avoid sounding bitter about not being included in the exhibition, because in some ways, I'm really happy not to be involved in the fiasco of being considered "here and now." That said, I would have been elated to be involved in the exhibition because it was in a terrific space, and a lot of the curators and artists were really great. To be in another show with you is always pleasing to me, and I really liked the work of a couple other artists. That's probably about as comfortable as I get talking about it. I think it's more interesting to hear your angle on it, since you were actually involved.

Well, I would second your appraisal of the space as being a large and interesting one in which to install artwork.

It's a beautiful building.

Absolutely. But as far as the show was concerned, I wasn't a big fan. I was certainly happy and flattered that they chose to include me, but I found there was nothing here or now about that particular show. It goes back to what you were saying before, how the one thing this art scene has going for it right now is all the apartment galleries and alternative spaces--that sort of do-it-yourself moxie. And I really didn't see any of those artists or any of that spirit in the show. I know we're talking about a kind of contradiction--bringing those spaces into the gallery, and into that academic installation. Maybe it's not possible. But it seems to me there should have been some way to capture some of that spirit, whether by including some of the artists who show in those spaces, or by asking some of those spaces to do an installation for the exhibition. I agree there's an overriding issue with these sorts of shows--it's impossible for them to capture the here and now. But more specifically, I don't think you can put together an exhibition by committee and have it be interesting; you end up with a sterile, completely politically correct presentation. I felt like the show had a very dated, 1990s' multicultural mentality. I'm not referring at all to ethnicity, but rather to a fear of not being all-inclusive. To be a truly exciting show, it needed to be based on opinion; it should have taken greater risks by mixing it up a little bit more, and not hitting all the obvious segments of the art scene.

Right. Although I notice you backed up a little bit to make sure you didn't step on the toes of someone who considers multiculturalism and political correctness extremely important! That's really interesting, because I've been reading about the backlash right now against Dave Hickey and people who are of like mind. These are people who are promoting art that's a little bit more playful, maybe occasionally a little bit more formal, and more concerned with ideas about authenticity, idiosyncrasy, and the customization of popular culture. It seems there's this push now to frame these ideas as being tied to right-wing, libertarian, or Republican politics--which is a really mean trick. I just have never seen it that way. I have always embraced those artistic positions because of how they promote the visceral and the personal as coexisting equally with virtuosity and intellectual potency. It's one thing to call those positions uninteresting, theoretically problematic, or simply false; it's entirely different to relate those positions to politics outright. What do you think about that situation?

I think a lot of the people who criticize Dave assume he's nothing but a dealer in critic's clothing--that basically, all he cares about is the commodification of art, and he's selling us desire and nothing more. To which I say: "Great! Sign me up!" I'd like to buy some of that, because even if all I get is something extremely desirable, that's good enough for me. Not that I would ever presume to speak for Dave, but that backlash stems from an over-simplification of where I think he's coming from. There's a certain sense, among many people in the art world, that art needs to be teaching all of us something important--preferably something we don't want to know but that's good for us. That "virtuous" art is the best art--perhaps the only true art--while art that looks sexy, feels sexy, is retinal, alluring, or seductive, is "bad." I think it goes back to issues of Puritanism versus Catholicism in this country, and that the dichotomy comes, in large part, from the fact that Puritans love text and disdain images, while Catholics believe in images as possibly being the embodiment of Christ. Those are two forces that struggle with each other a lot in our culture, and really affect the art world in particular.

So, Mr. Baker: having said all this, are you pleased with what you're doing?

Yeah, I would say so. I would be lying if I said I still don't have those high-school talent-show fantasies about getting onstage, playing a Cure song, and making sure all the jocks finally get it. Certainly it would be great to be John Currin. I don't want to make those paintings, but I think you understand what I mean. But at the end of the day, I'm pleased to be living this life, making work that I believe in, and having friends who make work that interests me. I think there's a lot to be said for that.

Scott Anderson is an independent Chicago artist. His work has appeared in 12x12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art , Chicago, and was on view at the Chicago Cultural Center in Fall 2003. Aaron Baker is represented in Chicago by Peter Miller Gallery. His work next appears in the show Trickle Down at Oni Gallery, Boston.